How Secure is YOUR Cloud?

The Microsoft Marketing Machine is in overdrive touting the security of Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), Exchange Online, and their other online services.  Much of the hype is in response to Google’s recent announcement that Google Apps Premier Edition has received FISMA Certification along with both SAS 70 Type I and II certifications.

As of August 26, 2010, Microsoft’s own FAQs for their online services acknowledges the lack of security certifications.

The Standard version of the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite will be seeking a SAS 70 Type II audit attesting to the effectiveness of Microsoft’s internal controls. While our U.S. datacenters maintain a SAS 70 Type II for the physical controls of each facility, the Services (Live Meeting, EHS, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Office Communications Online) themselves do not. Live Meeting maintains both the CyberTrust Service Provider Certification and the CyberTrust Application Certification, which surpasses the control requirements for SOX. The Business Productivity Online Standard Suite Standard implementation is scheduled to undergo the CyberTrust certification within the next couple of months.

All Cloud Computing SLAs are Not Equal

SLA’s, or Service Level Agreements, establish provider commitments for service performance, availability, and reliability.  When considering online services, understanding the SLA can make a world of difference.

For Google Apps Premier and Education Editions, Google offers a 99.9% availability SLA for the core services.  This is based on an expectation of no downtime at all, not even for scheduled maintenance.

For Microsoft’s Exchange Online service, the 99.9% availability SLA seems comparable, but it only covers downtime outside of scheduled maintenance windows.

The difference is important since scheduled maintenance can still impact your business.

So far in August 2010, there have been two (2) scheduled maintenance windows on Saturdays, running from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM EDT.   These maintenance windows easily impact businesses that operate on Saturday, as the windows extend through the morning until mid-afternoon.  And yet, they do not count against the SLAs as they were “scheduled”.

A quick check of  Microsoft’s Online Service Notification feed indicates at least six (6) unscheduled outages Exchange Online over the first 23 days in August.  While outages do count towards the SLAs and may result in credits, having a more reliable service is preferred.

Microsoft BPOS Outage Gets Little Attention

When it comes to Microsoft’s BPOS service, we often hear grumblings from the user community about downtime.  Yet, there is little or no press coverage.  Beyond the frequency of scheduled maintenance windows required for patches and security updates, we hear complaints about performance-related outages and emergency maintenance windows for fixes and updates to scheduled patches.

On Monday, August 23rd, Reuters reported that Microsoft’s US Data Centers experiences an outage lasting more than 2 hours … well beyond the 99.9% SLA touted by Microsoft for the BPOS and other hosted services.

That last Gmail outage made headlines on CNN and USA Today.   The Microsoft BPOS outage received relatively little coverage beyond a core set of reports in the IT press.  Maybe there is a difference in expectations?

Is this how your IT department spends its time?

As reported today in ZDnet, Microsoft’s August Patch Tuesday is the largest ever, with 14 major patches, 8 of which are critical.

Why do you care?

Because if your IT dept is good, they are first going to spend time evaluating your business’ risk and will try to determine if any of these updates will break anything running on your network.  This means time and money that could be better spent on IT activities that improve business efficiency and profitability.

One of the advantages of cloud computing, and Google Apps in particular, is that updates can happen at anytime without disrupting users.  Critical updates can be deployed globally to all customers within hours.

Cloud computing is a more efficient means of managing the infrastructure underlying your applications and your business.

An Epidemic is Underway

Hopefully, you did not notice.  Hopefully, your computer has been inoculated from zero-day viruses and the viruses that follow them.  If not, today is the day to update your virus protection and deep scan your systems.

Why? A virus outbreak continues to plague the Internet.

Starting Friday afternoon EST, we began seeing an large increase in the number of Virus Outbreak warnings for our clients covered by Google Postini Services (as part of Google Apps or protecting their internal email servers).  A Virus Outbreak alert reaches us when a large number of virus infected emails are being sent and blocked.

We cover thousands of mailboxes for hundreds of companies.  In a typical day, we see about five (5)  Virus Outbreak alerts.  Since Friday, we are seeing about 400 per day, an increase of nearly 8000%.  Unprotected systems are more than vulnerable, they are targets.

If you have questions about your level of protection, or you know of a business that needs better protection from spam and viruses, please contact us.  We are happy to help.

Horizon Info Services Receives FCC E-Rate Certification

Libraries, Schools, and Rural Health Facilities can receive funding for up to 90% of the cost of
Google Apps, Google Postini Services, and related professional services purchased through

Libraries, Schools, and Rural Health Facilities can receive funding for up to 90% of the cost of  Google Apps, Google Postini Services, and related professional services purchased through Horizon

WESTBOROUGH, MA – August 4, 2010 – Horizon Info Services, LLC announced that it is the first Google Apps Authorized Reseller to receive certification for the FCC E-Rate program.  With E-RATE certification, eligible libraries, schools, and rural health facilities can receive reimbursements from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) for Google Apps, Google Postini Services, and related implementation and support services purchased through Horizon.  Depending on the organization’s eligibility, reimbursements can range from 20% up to 90% of the service fees.

“This is a great opportunity for eligible entities,” stated Allen Falcon, Horizon’s founder and CEO.  “Through this program we help budget-strapped organizations save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on email, communication, and collaboration services.”

By migrating to Google Apps, organizations gain more than subsidized email services, they get a range of communication and collaboration services.  The value proposition is far greater than other solutions. “You can use E-Rate funds to subsidize the cost of a Microsoft Exchange service and you get email and calendars,” notes Falcon.  “Switch to Google Apps, and you get email and calendars plus shared online documents; word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet tools; free voice/video conferencing; secure web sites for classrooms and project teams; and many other services.”  Because these additional services are free components of the Google Apps suite, they are covered under the E-Rate program. With other solutions, these services may not be eligible for reimbursement.

To promote the availability of funding for Google Apps, Horizon is hosting a series of webinars that cover the basics of the FCC E-Rate program and the steps libraries, schools, and rural medical facilities must follow to obtain funding for Google Apps and related services.  According to Falcon, Horizon also works closely with Google’s direct sales force and other resellers to connect eligible organizations to available funds.  Interested organizations can contact Horizon by email at or by phone at 866-356-1202.

About the E-RATE Program.  Administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the program uses fees collected on every phone bill in the United States to equalize the cost of many telecommunication services for low income and rural communities.  In addition to consumer subsidies, the Universal Service Fund helps libraries, schools, and rural medical facilities upgrade and maintain a range of communication services and technologies, including email and related services.

About Google Apps.  Google Apps is a secure, integrated suite of communication and collaboration tools, including email, calendars, contacts, groups, office productivity tools, online document sharing,  secure collaboration web sites, video, and more.  Google and Horizon offer special pricing and discounts for schools, non-profit organizations, and governmental organizations.

About Horizon Info Services, LLC.  Horizon Info Services ( offers a range of cloud computing solutions to businesses and organizations with 1 to 500 users.  Horizon is an Authorized Reseller of Google Apps and Google Postini Services, in addition to a range of online backup, web security, and cloud storage solutions.

Economy is Ripe for Cloud Computing

A recent article in the New York Times reported that in the current economy, businesses are spending capital rather than hiring additional employees.  As reported in the article, the Commerce Department noted that

“The equipment and software category alone grew at an annual rate of 21.9 percent, the fastest pace in 12 years.”

When we look  at the stats and trends, we see businesses moving forward with project that have been put on hold.  And, we question whether or not this is a wise move.  Is moving forward with a project that’s been on hold for 12 to 24 months still the best way to go? In many cases, the answer is “No!”.

Many businesses are facing upgrades to core systems and infrastructure — desktop operating systems, office productivity tools, email servers — and are looking to finally move forward implementing collaboration systems.  Much of this demand is driven by aging hardware and software that is reaching end of life and vendor support.

Before moving forward with existing plans, businesses would do well to reassess their planned directions.  The past 24 months has seen a dramatic improvement and expansion of cloud-based services.  During that time, for example, Google has added over 200 major features to the Google Apps Premier Edition suite of services.  And, the rate of innovation and adoption for cloud computing solutions continues to accelerate.

If businesses do not take a fresh look, they stand to miss the improved integration between Google Apps and Windows desktops — Outlook and MS Office; support for enterprise features such as delegation of email and calendars and mobile device management tools; and improve security and management tools.

In short, what was leading edge is quickly moving mainstream.  Reactivating projects without reassessing options means potentially missing better solutions and lowering costs.  And, wouldn’t most businesses rather spend money on people and projects with greater returns than on their infrastructure and email?

If your business would benefit from a free email and collaboration assessment, please let us know.